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Interview: Michelle Parsons
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Friday 24th July 2009


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Last year wasn't the best year for duathlete/Ironman athlete, Michelle Parsons (aka Super Woman). A couple of fairly major bike crashes and a serious achilles injury meant she had to sit out for most of the year. But, the ever positive Michelle turned this to her advantage by taking some time-out and allowing her body to rest and recover. This year she's back and pretty much in the shape of her life - not bad for a 43-year-old mum. I caught up with Michelle following her near back-to-back Ironman races - Lanzarote and Austria - where she won her age-group in both and broke the record (for her age-group) in Lanzarote by three minutes.


AE After a tough year last year things certainly look like they’re on the up for you?

MP Yes thankfully they are! 2008 looked as though I would carry on where I left off in 2007, but unfortunately I managed to have two bike crashes whilst training which knocked my preparations back and then I picked up an achilles injury which ultimately saw me decide to pull out of all the major races for the season. Eventually I had had an achilles operation last October by quite honestly; the best surgeon in the World. He did a re-sectioning of the achilles fibres and shaved some bone off the back of my heal and smoothed it down. I put in a good winter’s training and targeted specific races for 2009 and now following the two Ironman results I feel I am ready for the rest of the challenging season ahead.

AE It's great to see you've recovered so well, which must be a relief, but what I find really impressive is how a 43-year-old working mother of two daughters just keeps getting better, how do you do it?

MP Age is number and with will and determination I see no reason why I shouldn’t get better with experience. A glass of red wine every night and listening to my body (i.e. making sure I give it time to recover from major efforts) also helps! My daughters, Jorden and Tegan, are also around to help me keep my feet on the ground with a reality check every now and then.

AE You’ve competed in two Ironman races in six weeks, that’s pretty impressive! So what’s your secret for a speedy recovery after such an arduous race?

MP I literally took the entire week off training and relaxed after Ironman Lanzarote. It is also knowing what your body requires, everyone is different. A week after I was ready to get back on the bike/turbo and swim followed by running a few days later. The good thing that came out of Lanzarote for me was the confidence to run again, at distance and pain free, which enabled me to up my running and speed for Austria – hence running almost 20 minutes faster for the marathon.

I am also lucky enough to have other distractions from training – home, work and family – they keep you grounded and prevent you from over training.

AE Given a bit of luck and if you stay healthy and injury free how fast do you think you can go over the Ironman distance?

MP On a perfect day and on the right course who knows, but when do those conditions ever present themselves? I think if I could do Austria again in similar conditions and knowing what I know now I feel I could take some time off the bike and maybe some time off the run (maybe 20 minutes bike and 15 minutes on the run). My real gain could be in the swim and so I am determined to work on it to save myself hopefully somewhere near another 15 minutes. So in theory maybe 9.30, in practice who knows.

AE So basically you've got to get your head down and started putting some big miles in the pool, which is probably something a duathlete isn't going to enjoy too much, is she?

MP I'm pleased to report that it may have taken a while but I do actually enjoy swimming now! Not being able to run properly since last June has enabled me to work on my swimming and I now swim four to five times a week at ‘silly o’clock’ in the morning with Tewkesbury Tri Club and with Phil and some triathletes at Cheltenham Lido. I get out of the water now and I am not ‘hanging out’ or feeling desperate, just ready to get onto the bike. But, I would like to go faster and I have tasked my swim coach with my mission for Hawaii.

AE Talking of Hawaii, your next Ironman race, what are your goals for the World Championships?

MP Firstly to survive the non-wetsuit swim. Secondly,to finish. Thirdly, to do the best I can possibly do on the day.

AE Ironman is such an inspiring an event to watch, but what inspires you when it comes to racing one?

MP My inspiration in the Ironman races this season has been the fact that getting out of the swim in the back of the field you have plenty of people to overtake. We are all competitive but there’s no doubt overtaking on the bike and run does the most to spur you on (editors note: Michelle came out of swim in 1571th position and finished in 297th – that means she overtook 1274 athletes on the bike and run).

Other inspiration in racing terms is seeing athletes like Les Bailey and Eddie Brocklesby finish big races with a smile on their faces!

AE How do you stay motivated to keep training so hard and consistently, even during the winter?

MP I know it may be a bit sad – but I just love training and racing! I also like to achieve good results and to do so you have to work at it, no-one else is going to do it for you. There will come a time when it will not be enjoyable and until that time comes I will remain positive and motivated. Even when I had the operation on my achilles in October I used the time to get stronger and give my body a rest from racing, which was needed.

AE What’s your favourite training session?

MP I really enjoy all my training, but I guess my favourite sessions are time trials and long bike to run brick sessions.

AE What are your plans for the rest of the season?

MP The cunning plan is to race in the upcoming Powerman races in Europe, Geel, Weyer and Zofingen (10k, 150k, 30k), and then head out for the big one in Hawaii. If that all goes well then I might try and fit in the end of season Powerman races as well.

AE You’ve race the Powerman World Championships in Zofingen three times, you've finished fifth twice (elite overall), do you think you can improve on that? And what on earth keeps drawing you back to such a gruelling race?

MP This race is the best in the World. Until you have done it it's hard to explain how addictive it is – the terrain, weather and the severe course that you race over is amazing, and very beautiful. I would honestly say without a doubt it is probably harder than doing an Ironman – and I am pretty sure for those who have done it, they would agree. The three times I've raced it I've got faster each time, so who knows, if I go faster again this year maybe I can improve on fifth place!

AE As a working mother and athlete that trains as much as many full-time pros how on earth do you manage to pack so much in?

MP Early mornings and prior planning. Plus a brilliant relationship with my step mum and dad who help us out with pick up and drop offs. I also have a very understanding husband and between the pair of us we work out our training – I am lucky enough to get my training done in the day and Phil does his in the evening. At the weekend we do get to ride out and run together because the girls are now old enough to leave for a while on their own. But, if we get really stuck and we are away for a time, then my parents will keep an eye on the girls for us, feed them and transport them from their row training.

AE Your daughters both do a lot of sport but do they have any plans to follow in the footsteps of their mother?

MP No they definitely don't want to take after their mother. They have dabbled in the occasional triathlon when they were younger but their passion lies with rowing. Jorden (16) is happy rowing in a quad and coxed four and Tegan (14) is a single and double sculler and does also row in a quad. They train four to five times a week at Evesham Rowing Club and Kings School Worcester. So a lot of our time it taken up with Regattas and Heads throughout the year.

AE Phil, your husband, is also a pretty good Ironman athlete, is there much wife husband rivalry?

MP Yes he is an extremely good athlete and great to train with (when I can keep up with him) but no, there is no rivalry. We ran together at Ironman Lanzarote when I caught him up on the run, but I had to leave him behind because I had a course record to break for my age-group and I didn't have time to hang around. Phil didn't race in Ironman Austria so he was there to support and provide splits for me throughout the day, especially on the run when everyone gets mixed up – he is the best stat man to have and the best support.

Saying that, so far our Ironman times, in the ones we have done together, we've always finished between two and three minutes of each other. We have both signed up for Ironman Switzerland next August 2010 – so, watch this space!

AE Which athlete do you most admire in Ironman racing and why?

MP Anyone who even does an Ironman is worthy of admiration whether they do eight hours or 16-hours – the majority of Ironman athletes are doing it for themselves and their own achievements. However, I am totally impressed by Cat Morrison, she had a fantastic race in Roth and hit the podium in her debut Ironman distance in an astonishing time.

AE What’s your motto for the day?

MP Always regret the things you’ve done, rather than the ones you haven’t!


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